“Don’t quibble, Sibyl”
Given that this touring production of Private Lives is going on for a couple of months and stretching from Glasgow to Torquay, it seems odd that they’ve decided to hold its press night so early, when the show is in distinct need of bedding in. As Elyot and Amanda, the warring ex-couple who end up in adjacent hotel rooms celebrating honeymoons with their new partners, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers just haven’t got there yet.
In the singing, the dancing, the bantering, the fighting, they’re decent but not much more, fatally mismatched as Chambers’ easy geniality has none of the requisite bite to be the equal sparring partner that Laura Rogers’ expressively daring Amanda needs, and deserves. He makes little attempt to stamp character onto the lines, to make them funny for him, instead relying too much on the fact that they’re just funny on the page.
Rogers is a much more effective stage presence, as befits so forward-thinking a role with its marvellously self-possessed sexuality and sensuality, and it does have to be said that they make an attractive couple. Charlotte Ritchie (a popular TV presence in Fresh Meat, Call the Midwife and Siblings) is good though as Elyot’s new wife Sybil, as is Richard Teverson’s Victor, Amanda’s new beau, and so the evening is far from a wash-out.
In this case, the theatre doesn’t help, the Churchill is a rather unforgiving barn of a space and Tom Attenborough’s production can do little about it, especially as Lucy Osbourne’s set design has to take in touring considerations too. He also plays it steady and unerringly traditional when one longs for a spark of innovation to ignite the whole thing. In another theatre on another day further into the run, it might well come.